Years ago, when working in the retail book world, customers and staff trainees would often ask what qualified a book for the Classics section as opposed to Fiction. My stock answer was, “Dead authors who works have withstood time and still have something to say to us today.” When reading current fiction, one wonders if, say, Dickens or Tolstoy or Austen’s works were recognized as potential classics when first published. Again, one would hope some readers would have felt a mental tremor when reading their words.
I was not familiar with Zafón’s work when I picked up The Angel’s Game, but was caught from the start. As I continued reading, I felt those tremors I mentioned above growing chapter by chapter. When I finished reading it, I called a friend and told her, “I feel as I did the first time I read The Red and The Black (Stendhal). I truly believe I have just read something destined to become a classic.”
In 1920’s Barcelona, David Martín is a writer. His mother abandoned his father (and David) years before. When his father is killed outside the newspaper offices where he works as a janitor, David is effectively orphaned. The editor offers him a job as a runner and he spends the next years learning the business. He is taken under the wing of Pedro Vidal, a dilettante-writer on the staff, who encourages his dreams of writing. When he is fired from the paper, Pedro puts him in touch with a publisher willing to take a chance on him.
As he begins his new life as a writer, he has started down a path that will lead to obsession, forbidden love, a potential fortune, and a battle for both his sanity and his soul. As Faust had his Mephistopheles, David Martín has Andreas Corelli – who offers him a fortune if he will write a book to his (Corelli’s) specifications. Vidal, Christine (David’s secret love and Vidal’s wife), Isabella, bookseller Sempere, all cycle in and out of David’s spinning-out-control-world. What is real, whom to trust, what is worth fight for (or against), does any of it really matter?
Darkly gothic and eerily contemporary, The Angel’s Game is a book I will read again and again.